Interfaith Alliance President Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, host of State of Belief Radio, urges the preservation of Church-State separation, as mandated by the US Constitution, even in the case of natural disasters. This after the US House of Representatives took the unprecedented step of voting to require FEMA to fund repairs to houses of worship damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: Welton Gaddy[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: I’m Welton Gaddy, host of State of Belief Radio.
Can help hurt? Can good intentions produce actions that do more damage than improve a situation?
These may strike you as interesting philosophical questions to ponder leisurely, but I am wrestling with these inquiries passionately in an effort to protect religious freedom. Let me explain the serious issue we face.
In the wake of the tragic devastation inflicted on the Northeastern sector of the United States by Hurricane Sandy, compassion for the residents of that region grew – and Congress eventually, belatedly, voted federal funds for disaster relief for them. The story is fine up to this point, except for Congress dragging its feet. However, next, efforts emerged – just as they did in disaster relief discussions related to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that destroyed much of the Gulf Coast region of the county – to change longstanding law and use federal funds to rebuild, restore, and redecorate houses of worship. In other words, Congress wants to use federal money to aid houses of worship in rebuilding pulpits, bemas, stained glass windows, Christian education buildings, Jewish schools, and other religiously-oriented articles that you find in various kinds of houses of worship.
“How could anyone be against such compassionate contributions for religious unions?” members of Congress ask. The answer to that question is critical, and often misunderstood. Look: not even the devastation of a national crisis is justification for compromising or disobeying promises in the Constitution – separation of the institutions of religion and government, and no intermingling of government money with the money collected in offering plates as gifts of worship.
Times of crisis are not occasions to justify setting aside basic principles and values – just the opposite! These are the moments in which those principles and values must prevail despite the emotions involved. Let me be specific:
(1) Private contributions should fund houses of worship.
Houses of worship respond to needs because of their belief in God and service to others as a means of obeying God. Government has no business funding work done in the name of God.
To be sure, houses of worship should insist that government does its duty in providing for the public’s welfare. However, intermingling government money, policies, and guidelines with the compassion, empathy, and generosity of charitable giving from a church, synagogue, gurdwara, mosque, or temple is destructive to an important constitutional guarantee regarding the independence both of government and religion.
(2) Government should not fund houses of worship at all, repaying houses of worship for their ministries or providing the money for their reconstruction or rehabilitation.
Framers of our Constitution intended to keep government out of religion. That is why government is forbidden to fund pervasively religious organizations and promote religious activities. Voluntary dollars should fund faith-based efforts and needs.
Of course, institutions of religion and government can cooperate with each other, but neither can supplant the other or impose itself on the other. Precedent provides sufficient verification for this fact and warning for the dangers that evolve when this fact is ignored.
The US House of Representatives already has passed a bill making it possible for FEMA (The Federal Emergency Management Agency) to use federal dollars for the reconstruction of houses of worship damaged by natural disasters. That is a sea change piece of legislation that runs contradictory to the promise of the Constitution. The Senate is yet to act so the bill is not yet law.
I have written a letter to members of Congress saying this: “Hurricane Sandy’s tragic impact reminds us of the aftermath of far too many other natural disasters. As a Baptist minister to a congregation in Monroe, Louisiana, Hurricane Katrina in particular is at the forefront of my mind. In times such as these, there is an understandable, compassion-based temptation to steer federal funds to houses of worship that have been damaged, but it is a temptation we must resist. An act of compassion must not be allowed to erode our historic Constitution.”
While I laud a motivation of compassion, I also call for common reason lest as a caring nation we do a wrong thing for a good reason and in the course of so doing turn a misguided form of help into a vicious form of hurt related to our Constitution, religious freedom, and civil rights.
Friends, we’re smarter than that, and I hope you help me make that point and avoid yet another bulldozer-like strike to the wall of separation that has made religion an important part of our nation without imposing it on those who stand apart from religion. Rebuilding a religious institution should not be the cause of tearing down our Constitution.
I’m Welton Gaddy, for State of Belief: religion and radio done differently.
State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.
Author of more than 20 books, including First Freedom First: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy leads the national non-partisan grassroots and educational organization Interfaith Alliance and serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana.
In addition to being a prolific writer, Dr. Gaddy hosts the weekly State of Belief radio program, where he explores the role of religion in the life of the nation by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America, while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Dr. Gaddy provides regular commentary to the national media on issues relating to religion and politics. He has appeared on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball, NBC’s Nightly News and Dateline, PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, ABC’s World News, and CNN’s American Morning. Former host of Morally Speaking on NBC affiliate KTVE in Monroe, Louisiana, Dr. Gaddy is a regular contributor to mainstream and religious news outlets.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Dr. Gaddy emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is a past president of the Alliance of Baptists and has been a 20-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance and member of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100. Rev. Gaddy currently serves on the White House task force on the reform of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Dr. Gaddy served in many SBC leadership roles including as a member of the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-84 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-77.
Dr. Gaddy received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.